A Quick Guide to Formatting Your Manuscript

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The easiest way to get your book passed over by publishers or agents is to ignore proper formatting. If a writer can’t even read submission guidelines, they probably haven’t written the next Wolf Hall. You don’t want your book to be brushed off over a technicality, so make sure you are following all the guidelines.

Every publishing house has its own specifications, but there are some common standards. Nevertheless, formatting can still be tricky. A typesetting assistant can help immensely in getting you ready. Here are some basics, but make sure to always follow the editor’s guidelines first.

Getting started

File details

Your file should be in Microsoft Word’s .docx or .doc format. Both are compatible with iOS and programs like Google Docs. Follow the publisher’s specific directions first, but if there are none, go with this tried-and-true format: Lastname_TITLE_date.docx. The underscores prevent system weirdness and make the file easier to find, while the dates keep track of your different versions.

Page setup and format

If you’re an Apple user, the commands will look slightly different. For example, on iOS, you’ll see “Format” or “File,” whereas on Windows, you’ll see “Layout.”

The easiest way to prepare your page:

Go to File > Page Setup

Use Letter Size (8.5” x 11”) format for North America, A4 (210 x 297mm) for most other countries 

1” margins for all four sides 

Most publishers also want to see double spacing and indented paragraphs (except for the start of a new scene or chapter):

MS Word
Format > Paragraph > Spacing: Double 

Format > Paragraph > Indentation > Left: 0.5” > Special: First line

Google Docs
Format > Line & paragraph spacing: Double

Format > Align & indent > Indentation options > Special: First line > 0.5”

Add a header 

Each page should have a header with your last name, book title in all caps, and the page number. For titles longer than three words, abbreviate with a couple of keywords. The first page of The Tale of Epic Adventure by Plucky Writerton would have this header: 


Your title page is not Page 1 of your manuscript, which is why you have to choose the “different first page” option. These should automatically appear on each page: 

MS Word

Insert > Page Number > Position: Top of Page > Alignment: Right > Uncheck “Show number on first page”
Click Page Number > Format Page Numbers…> Start at: 0

Double-click at the top of your page 1 to add your name and book title. Align Right to match the page number.

Google Docs 

Insert > Page numbers > [the icon showing page numbers on the top right]

Add your name and title as with MS Word.

Title page

Your title page should have the same font and size as the rest of your document: 12pt Times New Roman, black. This is the industry standard, and most publishers will request that you use Times New Roman. You’ll want the following:

  • Contact Information (or agent’s)
  • Word Count (rounded to the nearest thousand)
  • Title, two blank lines, Author
  • Category (such as Young Adult, Adult, etc.) and Genre

The manuscript


When you begin a new chapter, start on a blank page (Insert > Page Break). A third of the way down the page, enter the chapter number in all caps with center alignment. If your chapter has a title or POV character, type it below. To include a large time gap between chapters, you enter two lines to the left above the chapter. A couple of lines down, start your scene. The final result would look like this:

Chapter breaks

If there are time blips or POV switches within your chapter, you might utilize chapter breaks to avoid confusion, especially when a new paragraph won’t cut it. In a manuscript submission, you indicate a chapter break with asterisks (* * *) or a pound sign (#). Be careful with switching the POV too frequently. It might be better to start a new chapter if you decide to focus on a different character as you don’t want to confuse your readers.

Wrapping up

Hopefully, you have the Chicago Manual of Style, the popular editor’s book, because now’s the last chance to proofread. The Chicago Manual of Style is the industry standard, so you want to make sure you are following its conventions. This includes spelling, punctuation, and formatting. You might benefit from a proofreader looking over your manuscript, too. 

Finally, add The End at the very end so your reader knows they aren’t missing any pages. Then, look over your publisher’s guidelines again for every‌ specification. 

Getting your book ready to submit is a marathon, but so is every part of creating your book. Don’t scoff at the idea of getting some extra editing or formatting help. It could make the difference between seeing your book at the top of the lists or the bottom of the slush pile. 

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